Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and his two heralds imbued with the Power Cinematic—the Russo Brothers—all made guest appearances on this week’s episode of The Simpsons with a special message befitting the company that gobbled up 20th Century Fox in its quest for global domination: “Spoil our movies at the risk of death, nerds.”
“Bart the Bad Guy” leads with a premise that’ll resonate with anyone with even the most passing interest in big-budget superhero movies like Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame. Moments after witnessing that devastating cliffhanger at the end of Marble Studios’ Vindicators: Crystal War, Bart Simpson and the rest of Springfield’s moviegoing public are dismayed to learn that they’ll have to wait an entire year for the sequel, Vindicators: Crystal War Two: Resurgence, to hit theatres.
But when drunken actor Glen Tangier (Taran Killam), one of the Vindicators stars who plays a Hawkeye analogue, mistakes Bart for an ailing Milhouse while visiting the local hospital to see spend time with his sick fan, Bart’s presented with the opportunity with a lifetime. Just before Tangier passes out in a stupor, he mentions to Bart that he’s carrying a laptop with a copy of Resurgence on it that’s meant to be delivered to the studio.
When Bart realises that Tangier’s out cold, he reasons that it’d be easy enough for him to borrow the laptop, use the actor’s finger print to gain access to it, and take a look at the film for himself, as a treat. Unsurprisingly, the movie’s everything Bart could have wanted, and more, but it isn’t until he’s finished watching Resurgence that Bart realises the movie’s given him a devastating new superpower.
Because Resurgence is set to hit theatres so soon, virtually everyone in the world is both dying to know what’s going to happen to the Vindicators and living in absolute terror that the movie’s going to be spoiled for them before they get a chance to see it. By threatening people with the knowledge he’s gained by watching the ill-gotten screener, Bart’s able to coerce them into doing essentially whatever he wants, and as Resurgence’s proper release date grows nearer, Bart’s demands becoming increasingly tyrannical.
By the time Bart’s convinced the entire town to build him a luxurious treehouse in a historic tree that everyone loves, most all of Bart’s friends and family have turned on him because of how the “Spoiler Boy” has gone mad with power. As Milhouse confronts Bart for his initial deception and rightfully calls him out for becoming a villain like Vindicators’ Chinnos (Kevin Feige, doing his best Josh Brolin), things take a turn for the surreal one the film’s superheroes, Magnesium Man—you see what they did there—drops out of the sky and flings Bart into an interdimensional portal that transports him directly into the Marble Cinematic Universe.
By demonstrating their superpowers for him, the Vindicators are able to convince Bart that what they’re telling him is true, but much to his alarm, the reality he’s seeing is different than what he witnessed in Resurgence.
Unlike the movie, where Tangier’s character Airshot survived, the MCU’s Airshot did not specifically because of Bart’s willingness to spoil things in his world to Comic Book Guy. Learning this devastates Bart, because he’s responsible for murdering his favourite superhero, but his emotional moment’s cut short as The Simpsons zooms out and clarifies that of course none of what’s happening is real.
Rather than sitting by and letting Bart potentially jeopardize Resurgence’s opening day box office, it’s revealed that Marble Studios spirited Bart away, hooked him up to an advanced virtual reality machine, and trapped him in an illusion designed to torment him. The idea, a pair of Marble executives voiced by the Russo Brothers explain, is both to deter Bart from spoiling and pirating the studio’s movies by making him believe that spoiling things is akin to murder. On its face, the joke’s funny because it comes across as the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from the people heading up the most popular and financially successful films in the world.
But things get kind of dark when you start to consider how the joke’s really a distillation of how the fandoms of these big budget movies have become alarmingly corporatised in recent years. As the Marble execs break down how Vindicators represents a sizable investment that the company needs returns on in order to ensure its continued success, Bart’s in the midst of a full-on mental and emotional breakdown over a bunch of pixels being beamed into his eyeballs, and his parents are feet away making grim jokes about gaslighting in relationships.
In the end, Bart learns the error of his ways even though all of these problems are the direct result of Tangier’s drinking, which goes completely unaddressed. The world’s able to experience Resurgence the way Marble intended, and all seems to be right, but not before “Bart the Bad Guy” slows down to make something very, very clear.
In addition to messing with Bart’s mind, Marble Studios was more than prepared to simply murder the Simpsons in order to protect their movie, and in another time before Disney owned The Simpsons, a joke like that might have almost been sort of funny. Now, though, it just comes across as a very, very, very gentle threat.